Markus Ilver (Tallinn, Estonia, 2002) has shown up as another raising prospect in Estonia after a breakout performance at the 2020 Baltic Sea Cup, where he led his team to win the championship while earning MVP honors. During this season, he has attracted the interest of many college coaches to go to Massanutten Military Academy in Virginia, where he is developing his career. 

This season, you decided to leave Estonia for a new experience in a high school in USA. How has the first year gone in this new place? 
It was a big decision for me. I want to play college after high school, and going to the States, being closer to the college coaches and getting my name out there more, has given me more exposure than I would have had in Europe. So I would say my first year has been pretty good, I’ve liked it and I don’t regret my decision. I’m already looking forward to the next year. 

How has been your daily adaptation to a military academy?
I was actually in a regular high school in North Carolina at the start of the season, but after two or three weeks the school shut down and that’s when Massanutten Military Academy hit me up. The first weeks when I got to there were kind of hard; I was used to live in a regular apartment and everything changed into a military environment, so it was the toughest part. Also, being away from home was difficult at the beginning. 

Do you think you have accomplished your expectations after your first year?
When I first heard about Massanutten Military Academy I didn’t know what to think about it. I just knew that coach told me that we will have formations every day, we will have to wear uniform… So at the start it was kind of hard to get used to because it was different. But I’m happy that I went there, because otherwise I would have had to come back home and couldn’t play basketball in high school. 

What kind of improvements do you think your new team has helped you the most so far?
I have improved my personal life, sticking into the routine, waking up every day at the same time, wearing the uniform and stuff like that. About basketball, I have learnt a lot of new stuff on the court and my body has improved due to I came to the weight room much more. 

A few days ago you received the first college offer from George Mason. What will you give more importance at the time to commit to a college?
For me the most important things when choosing a college will be good academics, great relationship with the team and the coaches and great competition level. I would like to share team with high working teammates so I can see myself improving there every day. 

Last summer you attended to Basketball Without Borders in Riga, where the best prospects in the generation practice together for a few days. What do you think players can benefit of an event like this? 
This camp is a great opportunity for kids like us. We can see where we are comparing to the other kids of our age; we can see what they are better at, what we are better at, what we need to work on, what we can learn from each other; and of course you can make new friends there and probably one day, you will hopefully play against them at the professional level.

Recently, some good prospects came out from Estonia. To what would you attribute the increase of good players over the last few years in your country?
The focus on younger players in Estonia has increased a lot in the last few years. Also, there are a lot of younger kids who went abroad to play basketball in a different kind of environments against better competition level, so that’s what has improved the most. 

This last January, we saw you winning the Baltic Sea Basketball Cup with Estonia, where you had an important role and you were named MVP of the competition. How has been your process from a minor role in the last U18 European Championship to establish yourself as a leader of this team?
Moving to the States was a big step for me to play in a great level where I can see myself improving on the court a lot; I gained a lot of self confidence and that helped me a lot to get on the higher level. I wouldn’t say I’m the leader of the team though, I’ve always been a team player and I want to help my teammates in any way possible. I’m pretty sad there won’t be European Championships this summer, because I could see our team do really well there. 

Photo: Siim Semiskar